The characteristics that make an occupation a profession have been the subject of much research and debate and in many respects what I am presenting here and attempting to relate to piano teachers is rather simplified and is, of course, from my own perspective. Hopefully, it does provide a more rigorous context for the debate to take place within.
Heisler (1995), having reviewed much of the literature, identifies five commonly applied traits denoting an occupation with professional status. He argues that a professional group has:
- a specialised body of knowledge and technique
- training courses that pass on specialist knowledge
- exams and tests that provide certification for practice
- monopoly to work by those with certification
- autonomy of practice for those with certification
Heisler applied these criteria to American piano teachers and found that only the first and last specifications could be fully met. He suggests that a semi-professional label might often be more applicable, particularly for teachers without pedagogy degrees or diplomas.
The work of Stan Lester (2007) provides another perspective. Lester is a UK academic who has carried out considerable research into professions and professionality (click here for his website) and his criteria have a number of similarities to those of Heisler. Lester identifies a professional as someone who:
- makes proficient use of expert or specialist knowledge
- exercises autonomous thought and judgement
- makes a voluntary commitment to a set of principles
As can be seen in the chart below, when these two sets of criteria are compared with the current UK situation, there two key areas that we fail to meet:
- Those who have 'certification' have a monopoly to teach (and for the moment certification will be adopted in its broadest sense to mean music degrees and both performance and teaching diplomas).
- Voluntary commitment to a set of principles
The Reflective Model (Model B) emerged in the latter half of the twentieth century and has a more creative and interpretive nature with its roots in constructivist epistemology (which broadly takes the view that all individuals construct their own meaning of the world through their interaction with it). Lester suggests that the Reflective Model B is the preferred stance whilst ‘embracing and including Model A’ (2007, p. 10).
I will return to this topic in my next post but leave you with some questions to ponder.:
- Do you consider yourself a 'professional' piano teacher? What, in your view, makes you a professional?
- How is your piano teaching validated ? By reference to others' expectations or by continuous questioning of fitness for purpose?
- Do you adhere to a set of professional standards or teaching principles, either your own or others?
- Do you think that being a member of a group that represents professional musicians and teachers (e.g. EPTA UK, ISM, MU) is relevant to your work as a piano teacher?
Please do share your thoughts as it is only by sharing our thoughts and viewpoints on this that we can become more 'professional' and finally grow into a fully-fledged and recognised profession.
Lester. S. (2007). On professions and being professional. [Online]. Available at: www.sld.demon.co.uk/profnal.pdf
(c) Sally Cathcart 2014